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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Owlets and Shikras at home

Since I'm home bound most weekends (owing to requirements, not restrictions) I've had the unique opportunity to stand in my balcony and look out across the limitless rooftops that dot our fair city of Bangalore.
Smoke from a million exhaust pipes kill one's enthusiasm to venture out at all. The tabebuia tree in front of my house is some solace since it plays host to several animals and birds. Of late, it has grown quite leafy with not a single flower in sight. Squirrels scold crows from its branches while, under it's shady boughs, stray dogs mass around, snarling, marking out their territories and showing off to each other.
A couple of months ago, a spotted owlet made its presence felt here. I had stepped out of my house to switch off the staircase light when an odd shape on the sheathed electric cable caught my eye.

Trupti was already asleep and Adu and Pallavi were preparing for a night of boisterous games when I charged back inside, shook my wife awake and told them all about the owlet.
I love these tiny, beautiful, and bold birds. We took several pictures of the owlet which stayed comfortably in place despite the fact that we were about five feet away from it, admiring it in hushed tones of reverence.

For three days, almost regularly at around 11 p.m., the owlet returned to the electric cable and stayed there for almost 30 minutes before hopping across to the tabebuia tree. And we kept watch wanting to confirm that it would arrive regularly there as a prelude to its hunting foray. Then it suddenly stopped visiting us. Two days ago, Trupti was awake at 2.30 a.m. when she heard a haunting hoot just outside our window. The owlet had returned. Karthik tells me it can't be the spotted owlet since they don't hoot. I shall have to confirm with Trupti what the call sounded like before I post an update again.

Hang on! We'd like to confirm it's return before we let you drop in on us. Bring your own blankets, pillows and coffee. We'll share your coffee with you.

Last weekend, I was nursing a cup of tea in the aforementioned balcony when a lone shikra flew to the granite extrusion of the roof of the neighbour's house. I think it was the same one that had chased a squirrel on to our window.

The road in front of the house is a thoroughfare and any number of people and vehicles populate it even on a Sunday. But this bird sat there quite fearlessly, resting on one foot while the other disappeared under it's beautiful feathers. The markings on it were clear and distinctive. Trupti and Adu had walked off to my dad's house and hadn't yet returned. As I watched, it scanned the lawn below it for any evidence of an errant lizard. At one point, I think it must have noticed the weird individual staring at it and glared at me for a few seconds with it's fierce looking eyes before turning away.
I dashed inside to get the camcorder and spent some minutes cursing horribly under my breath because the SD card wasn't in, fitted the SD card into its slot and wasted some more time screwing on the telecon lens and dashed out only to find that the shikra had disappeared. Trupti and Adu had by now returned and I told them about the bird while showing them the pictures.
I was lamenting the fact that we hadn't got a video when I heard the distinctive "kek kyoo" call somewhere near the eucalyptus grove that marks the Mini Forest. I whistled the call a few times and was pleasantly surprised to see it flying back to the gul mohur tree right at my doorstep. So close that I couldn't get a decent photograph of it with my zoom lens. It wasn't alone, it had brought its mate with it, probably to challenge the intruder in their domain. I chanced to see both the shikras again in the Mini Forest a little later in the day. I suspect they've made the place home since I've heard the call regularly since identifying the birds.

Trupti did get some video footage which I will try to post here sometime in the not too discernible future.

UPDATE: Karthik was kind enough to read through and offer a few corrections. The shikra in the photograph is a juvenile and so the pair that returned could not have been mates. I can't, at this moment, offer an explanation or call them siblings. So until further sightings confirm the pair's activities, it's just a pair of shikras.